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Nautical Themed Birthday Party

I've always been a big fan of birthdays. I assumed my enthusiasm would wane over the years, but it’s inexplicably still going strong. These days it’s less about the presents than it is the opportunity to host a party with all my favorite people. So this year, I decided to celebrate my 31st with a dinner party based loosely around Renee Erickson's lovely cookbook, A Boat, A Whale and A Walrus.

Erickson's Seattle seafood shack, The Walrus and the Carpenter, is one of my favorite places. It’s spotless but cozy, efficient but doesn’t deter lingering. The marble bar is lined with fresh oysters cratered in beds of crushed ice, and wine glasses teem with French Rosé and Muscadet. With this seaside-shack-meets-Parisian-bistro vibe in mind, I set out to create an evening that would be both elegant and easy-going.

Here's the menu, based loosely on Erickson's cookbook, with a few tweaks based on what was fresh from our garden or available locally that week.

We snagged a few dozen of these awesome oysters from Reel Foods, which Alex scrubbed and shucked before the party. They were creamy and heavenly and disappeared way too quickly.

We also offered everyone an ice cold martini when they entered the party, a mix of Tanqueray Gin (my go-to fave), dry vermouth, sherry, anchovy olives and lemon peel. The lightly brine-y martini went perfectly with the oysters and our other finger food, cucumber coins topped with lemon zest cream cheese and salmon roe.

After everyone finished their cocktails, I set out some shared apps on the table for people to pick at. The first was a rich chicken liver pate riddled with sweet onions, creamy butter and pear brandy. We served the pate with pickled shallots and fresh figs. I just love the color combos in this dish, especially with this vintage, gold-rimmed plate!

The next app was one of my all-time faves: Steak tartare heaped onto crisp, duck fat-brushed crostini. The steak tartare featured a combo of minced raw steak, shallots, tarragon, salt-packed capers, lemon, anchovies and olive oil. Some folks were hesitant to try the raw beef at first, but we made quite a few converts that night.

After we'd emptied more than a few carafes of rosé, we served the main course: Grilled steelhead with a vibrant parsley/tarragon sauce and fresh new potatoes. We also served two side salads: Shaved collard greens with crushed almonds and heirloom tomatoes with vanilla bean salt.

I didn't get any shots of the oyster-shaped dessert course—two rum butter cookies held together with a decadent dark chocolate bourbon ganache and a small white chocolate almond—because I was too preoccupied having an awesome time. Thanks to all who could make it. What a magical birthday!

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